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System enables frigates to fire at multiple supersonic targets

The Royal Navy’s latest defence system will enable British frigates to fire homing missiles at multiple targets travelling at supersonic speeds using a new launcher.

The £483m Sea Ceptor, announced by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on 30 January, will be the first UK system to eject missiles from the launcher using a piston before they ignite — known as a ’soft’ or ’cold’ vertical launch.

As well as providing the navy’s Type 23 frigates with a similar homing missile capability to the larger Type 45 destroyers — the UK-designed-and-built system could create strong export opportunities, according to its developer MBDA.

‘We think this is quite unique in terms of its combination of capability, performance and affordability,’ Nick Neale, MBDA’s project director for Sea Ceptor, told The Engineer. ‘We are very excited by the opportunities this gives for the export market, which is a real priority.’

The MoD has awarded MBDA the contract to build a demonstration version of the technology, which the navy intends to use on the planned fleet of Type 26 Global Combat Ships, but could also be adapted for use on land and in the air.

Once complete, Sea Ceptor will be able to fire more than two missiles simultaneously at up to Mach 3, enabling ships to protect an area of around 500 square miles.

’Missiles are launched at high speed using a piston mechanism and then turned onto the correct trajectory before their propulsion system ignites,’ said Neale.

‘That’s got lots of benefits, one of which is that it’s very efficient because instead of turning with the motor burning you get the missile into exactly the right attitude before the motor fires up.

‘The other benefit is that the launcher is very straightforward because you don’t have to manage all the very hot gases that are normally ejected in a conventional launcher.

’The missiles are able to seek out and lock onto their targets, which could include enemy projectiles also travelling at supersonic speeds, using an active radar seeker system and a data link to the ship’s systems.

‘Previous systems [use] a guidance technique where the missile is kept directly in the line of sight to the target, whereas this is an active homing missile, which gives you far more flexibility in how you control it,’ said Neale.

‘You fire it off, upload the data to give it the latest information on where the target is and it goes and finds it itself. The system architecture is equivalent to the Sea Viper architecture on the Type 45.’

The technology has been developed and trialled over the last few years and will now be demonstrated on a Type 23 vessel. Providing the demonstration phase is successful, MBDA hopes to receive a production contract in the next two years.

Sea Ceptor will use MBDA’s Common Anti-Air Modular Missiles, which are scheduled to enter service on the Type 23s in 2016 and are designed for use in land, sea and air vehicles. The launcher technology is also designed to be used across different platforms.

‘The launcher design is very simple, which means it can be accommodated onto different ships easily,’ said Neale.

‘The integration of the system into the rest of the ship with the radar and combat system is designed to be flexible as well, and that is something that is really made possible by the overall architecture of the system, hardware and software.

‘It’s designed from the outset to be adaptable and flexible to enable it to work with a range of radars and combat systems to make exportability and integration onto other platforms straightforward.’

The demonstration contract is expected to sustain around 500 jobs in MBDA and its supply chain at locations across the UK.

Readers' comments (5)

  • Weapons get more elaborate and versatile which can have a hidden danger. If they put Sea Ceptor on a ship which can down all airborne threats there may be no need to have two such ships in the same sector as one will do such a complete job. I cannot see a back up system suggested anywhere. Ship board systems malfunction, ships have to be taken out of service to be maintained and re-fitted which is why we have a number of submarines patrolling the oceans of the world. If the missile system is too expensive and the UK can afford only limited numbers of them we may end up with the inability to provide round the clock protection of our interests both home and abroad. Also one ship with one system is vulnerable to a concentrated attack to put it out of commission.
    Currently HMS Dauntless is going to the Falklands to rattle our sabres but if that ship becomes un-serviceable for any reason there is nothing else down there to take its place except the RAF and a few helicopters. "All our eggs in one basket" is a proverb that comes to mind and the more sophisticated we get the less eggs are supplied to the basket. Dangerous games are being played.

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  • This programme is a false-logic cop-out... a bogus and transparent strategy being employed by the UK MoD to not have to continue with the Type-45 Destroyer programme and build 10-12 more of these potentially world-beating vessels (as ASW & Land Attack/NFS variants) to replace the Royal Navy's egregiously vulnerable to airborne threats Type-22 and Type-23 Frigates and Type-42 Destroyers...

    Due to their comparatively tiny sizes- and low-power-generation capacities- Type-22 and Type-23 Frigates and Type-42 Destroyers can not be upgraded to run the same capabilities of anti-airborne threat weapons systems as Type-45s...

    Type-45s' anti-airborne threat weapons systems rely on and are built around powerful, multi-function AESA radars...

    Ship-borne multi-function AESA radars that are tasked with air-defence roles require very large amounts of power to operate...

    Such power requirements can only be met by surface combatants possessing very large and very heavy engines and ancillary equipment which drives the size and costs of such vessels up considerably- and well over the 5000- 5500 tonne displacement/ £ 500 M ceiling that has been set for the undergoing-design, new Type-26 Frigates...

    The Sea Ceptor programme should be continued, but with potential exports as the main driver-

    The main driver of the Sea Ceptor programme should not be use by the RN's urgently in-need-of-replacement/sales Type-23 Frigates...

    And Sea Ceptor should not be continued if the project functions to enable the UK MoD and govt to wriggle out of recapitalizing the RN with properly sized blue water multi-role Destroyers & Frigates that are capable of running fixed-face, multi-function AESA radars and industry-standard communications and weapons systems... systems that 21st century naval warfare will demand...

    Mr. Roderick V. Louis,
    Vancouver, BC, Canada

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  • In answer to Roderick,
    Exactly my point - this project is dangerous. Good to have a world beating missile system but you have to have a back up which means more ships and if you can't afford them then the system is vulnerable. I'm not too happy with the export led funding process either. If you have a superior weapon you shouldn't be giving it to potential adversaries without first ensuring a blanket cover at home in the event of hostilities breaking out.

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  • @TrevorBest

    I hardly think war would break out between two nations in the time it took to create these missile systems for both ship types.

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  • @Incignitive

    Oh, because that has never happened before, has it?!

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